Pick-up Trucks & Monkeys

Monkey Temple

There are so many things I could and should tell you about. I never updated about my trip to Koh Samet, the ASEAN competitions, two field trips, my Thai Thanksgiving (fried chicken, mac n cheese and no bake cheese cake..) or my tutoring gig. But just so I don't bore you too much I'll skip over all of that and dive right into my weekend in Lopburi.

Monkey Street Sign
Lopburi is a city filled with monkeys. They climb through the streets like squirrels. Unlike squirrels-- monkeys don't scurry off when approached by humans. More often than not if you move towards them (and for me this was always by accident..) they jump right on top of you. Luckily zero monkeys jumped on me or anywhere near me, but some of my friends were not so lucky. One of the girls that traveled with us this weekend was bitten on the back of the leg (didn't break the skin..) and one of the guys on his neck (and this monkey did break the skin..he spent the afternoon in the hospital getting rabies shots). I knew about 20 people in the city for the festival and 2/20 were attacked. Knowing this, I'm guessing this happens quite often. I was more than happy to say goodbye to the monkeys when it wast time to leave. The city claims they are "humanized" but I think not so much.

school milk
School Milk
Since we have yet to be paid we have just been taking overnight trips to save money (thank goodness we will finally be paid on Friday at 11am...counting down the hours). Both times that we have taken day trips we wake up and "leave" at 7am. For Koh Samet-- three trips back upstairs for more baht, passports and water bottles and we finally left our apartment by 8:30. This go we didn't have to trek back upstairs for anything, but coordinating songtoa rides, meeting up with other friends and waiting on a bus that wasn't moving, put us leaving Chonburi at 9am. (We now know that the bus leaves at 7:30 and 9 so either get there early or just wait..)

The bus arrived in Bangkok at 11ish and we met up with two other friends at the bus station. Many hand gestures, a few Thai words, lots of English words and a 711 snack stock up later, we climbed into a van for a three hour journey to Lopburi. Vans are a very common (wouldn't say popular, they aren't very fun to ride in) way to travel throughout Thailand. They seat 16 people and make random stops along the way. The absolute worst seats in the van are the back row.  Up until this trip, I had no idea they were the worst seats--I always ended up sitting back there somehow. I wish I'd just never found out about the luxurious seats a few rows up, because now sitting in the back is almost unbearable.

group bar
Lopburi Bar with part of our group
About two hours in, lots of swerving, fast breaking and changing of lanes, it started to down pour (mother please realize there are no seat belts in Thailand and I'm pretty sure the drivers would not understand or appreciate it if I told them I had wait for my mom to come pick me up instead of riding without a seat belt..and since you aren't in this country I think that would be a bit of a challenge...). So the streets start to flood and now we start floating/hydroplaning our way to Lopburi.

We do get there in one piece, but we have no idea how to get from the bus station to our hotel. Bus stations aren't really bus stations or at least not like the bus stations in the US. There aren't any Information Stations or terminals or even buildings. So we ask our van driver. He gets out (he let's use stay in the van which is really nice..) and makes a few calls. Gets back in and through nonverbal communication let's us know he has no idea where this place is.

So we get out. Walk over and immediately a lady from a restaurant comes out and starts pulling stools towards us and says "sit down, sit down!" Then runs in the back and gets her daughter (I guess it was her daughter...?) Our van driver then gets back out and comes over to help again too. Then the daughter and friend come out. She speaks English. We now have a group of 7 farang and 4 locals trying to figure out where we need to go.

The girl calls the hotel and then a random elderly man shows up and they chat and then the next thing we know, the girl tells us he will take us for 30 baht a piece. She walks us through the rain to his truck. We are saying "thank you thank you thank you"--thinking of course she has already gone over and beyond and she will now go back to the restaurant, for goodness sakes she walked a quarter mile in the rain just to show us to the car. But, no she said "Oh no! I go with you to make sure." So she gets up front and we all crouch in the truck bed which is a cross between a songtao and a truck. We do have a covering and there are benches in the back, but more of a homemade version of a songtao/ghetto version (please note this is truck ride #1 for the weekend and this will become a very popular form of transportation from  here on out.)

truck ride number 1
Pick-up Truck Ride #1
So we sit crouched over, breathing in exhaust in standstill traffic. Finally arrive at our very off the grid hostel/hotel/not sure what you would call it. We say goodbye and pay our new friends. Drop off our bags and head out to explore. We find that we are extremely far from Old Lopburi which is were most of the action for the weekend is happening. We get lost, stop off at the Lopburi Inn and see some friends from orientation. But, I'm super grouchy and need to eat pronto. So we walk and walk and walk and for the first time since I've arrived in Thailand there are not resturants every two feet. There aren't even any food stalls. We just keep passing motorbike shops. Finally after finding a few college students they point us in the right direction and we eat at Grill Guru. It was great! I got a spicy pepper and chicken dish with rice.

By now it is 5 o'clock and we had been hoping to go to the sunflower fields, but realize that isn't going to happen because the sun is setting. So we head into Old Lopburi instead (one songtao ride and about a fifteen minute walk and we are still pretty far from Old Lopburi). We think we can walk there, but we can't, so after a few more stop overs and bumfuzzeled locals whom we've pestered with questions, we get back on the songtao and ride into Old Lopburi. Here we finally see our first monkeys and they are EVERYWHERE.

Man & Monkey
This man has been feeding these monkeys every day for over 20 years.
We hop off the songtoa and stand and stare at an old man as he sits and feeds the monkeys. Within a few minutes a local teacher comes up and tell us all about the monkeys. He is from LA and has been teaching in Lopburi for 3 months. He tells us a good area to hang out in and where to eat. We stop in a restaurant called School Milk. It is really cute, but we aren't hungry so we just get a few beers. We order beers for the table and sit and wait. We notice it is taking a little longer than it should for a few beers. A few minutes later we watch as one of the fifteen waiters walks in with a 711 bag filled with just the number of beers we've ordered. Lesson learned--go to 711 and bring beer to restaurant with from now on (and this is allowed in Thailand as opposed to the US).

So we leave there thinking we will stop by 711 get some snacks and head home to change, but then run into more people. So we sit down at a Chinese food restaurant and order dishes for the table to share. Next thing you know four hours later and I'm still in tennis shoes and it is time to relocated to another bar...oh well. Going out in tennis shoes will just have to do. (one of my fellow teachers did say "I mean I know we are in Thailand and all, but you are in running shoes--is that okay?").

So we head to the next bar, play a few Thai drinking games which boil down to-- a cup and saucer, dice and counting the number of farangs at the table and skipping all the locals--not once did the locals lose/have to drink. The bar was pretty neat though. Most of the restaurants and bars in Thailand are open and then just spill out into the street. I really like that, they just set up tables all up and down the road. Lopburi was also cold in comparison to Chonburi so that was a great relief!

Ten o'clock and one our orientation friends nonchalantly tell us that songtaos stop running at 9pm in Lopburi. At this moment we realize the ride home is going to be an interesting endeavor. Half the group decides it's time to try and get home and the other half goes to hear a local Thai band. Of course I can't resist live music and when in Thailand. Soooo..we venture to yet another bar.

One of the very interesting thing about Thai people is they love to give farangs alcohol. No idea why? But whenever you start talking to any of them the first thing they do is try and hand you their drink. I always responded with "mai ao kah" (no thanks..). But still very bizarre. But all the locals LOVE to talk to you and they love practicing their English and hearing about your life. The night gets later and later and finally we decide it is time to get home too. Hm...how should we do this? We figure we will have to take a motorbike home (this is the second time this exact same scenario has happened to me..) We get outside and are looking for a motorbike driver to take us home. Immediately one of our Thai friends from earlier says "Oh no, we take you home." And is super insistent. She goes back into the bar to get her brother who is the driver for the night. (literally this is exactly what happened one night in Chonburi. They always tell us motorbike is too dangerous and drop everything they are doing to take us home). I tell her we are staying very far away, but she doesn't care. 

We show her the address in Thai (a word of advice always ask your hotel for the name written in Thai otherwise there is no luck when it comes to getting home..). We drive some strange way, stop twice at a gas station (which I'm pretty sure looking back on it, we are stopping to ask for directions, but I really have no clue.) Finally they decide to call the owner of the hotel to ask for directions (at this point it is really late...but the owner answers..) She answers and gives directions and meets us outside the hotel to make sure we make it in. Extremely nice and hospitable once again. 

So the plan is to awake up and go to the sunflower fields early in the morning before the opening ceremony for the monkeys--which is at 10am. So we wake up and hope that we can bribe a songtao driver to take us to the sunflower fields instead of having to drive all the way back into town. We walk out to the main rode and ask two different songtoa drivers. We show pictures of sunflowers, pull out money, point, smile, laugh...but no luck. We ride a Songtao back into town and stop at the bus station. But of course, no. We need to be at the train station to get a bus to the sunflowers (which makes zero sense).  Now it is getting late and we are grouchy and need food. So okay rethink. Let's get food, go to the monkeys and then go to the sunflowers.

We venture back to School Milk and this time for food. Since I've arrived in Thailand there really isn't a difference between breakfast food, lunch food and dinner food. So I decide to go for the Green Curry at 9am, because it looks like it is full of vegetables. So we sit and wait and once again we notice things are taking awhile and about 20 minutes later we aren't surprised in the least when three of the waiters walk outside and help two of the other staff carry in bags and bags of groceries. Well at least we know it will be fresh. 

The curry was amazing, but in Thailand they don't wait for everything to be ready. They just bring it out as it in shifts. So of course mine arrives last and it is boiling hot. It is full of cauliflower, broccoli, greens, carrots, radishes and more vegetables than I've seen since I've been in Thailand (even more than the vegetarian restaurant I go to every day for lunch!). I try and scarf it down as fast as possible so we can head to the opening ceremony. 
asean monkey
ASEAN Monkeys

We arrive a few minutes late and nothing is really happening. There is a big tarp that is covering something--what I assumed was food. Then (surprise surprise) all of these people start an ASEAN parade. They have flags and are dressed in the traditional clothing from each country. The only difference is now many of them have these creepy monkey masks on. Then (no surprise once again) they all start doing gangnam style. Thai announcers for any type of event are so annoying. They have really high pitch voices and talk really loud. So it sound like this "a;lskjf;askljdf ASEAN a;slfjks;lkdjf;laksj gnangman style a;sldjkfa;slkjdf " repeat 7 million times and throw in a lot of "kahs". 
fruit & monkeys
Thanking Monkeys with a Feast of Fruit

We walk around and the sun is hot. Finally they shoot of this confetti and the remove the tarp to show a huge pit-like area filled with stuffed animal monkeys. SO strange. Then the feeding starts and monkeys are just all over the place. I'm over it and ready to see some sunflowers. 
stuffed animals
Strange Monkey Dolls

So we decide we've seen enough. We walked back to hotel that had sunflowers on the front window--figuring that was a good sign and they'd be able to point us in the right direction. But, they weren't really any help. We walked and stop along the way asking a lot of different people and prices were outrageous, but they all offered to take us in their pick up trucks. (side note--if you would like to get a job in Lopburi buy a pick up truck put in two wooden benches and cover it with a tarp and you will make millions..) We didn't really like the attitudes of any of the people offering so we kept walking, but we were determined. Then here comes Door (at this point I didn't know Door, but for the rest of my Chonburi friends he was a dear old friend). 

Door: Our Personal Chauffeur for the weekend
Their ride home experience from the night before had been similar. They leave the bar and try to find motorbikes, but the owner of the bar refuses to let them go. He tells them "wait wait..I'll call my brother." He calls and wakes up his brother (Door) to bring his truck and take them home. Of course, Door takes them home (Truck ride #2 for most of the group..). So here pops up Door again and he says he will take us for 100 baht a person. That seems like an awful lot, but it is far and we do want to go. We barging a little and end up settling for 80 baht a person (so do the math Door makes 560 baht in less than an hour..this is 160 baht more than I make for tutoring for 1 hour...like I said I'm thinking of getting in the pick up truck Lopburi business.)

truck ride # 2
Yellow spinners to match the sunflowers
So we go (and yes mom sorry once again...no seat belts, maybe you shouldn't have read this blog entry..) and it is amazing. Each year all the farmers take turns planting the sunflowers so that there will be sunflowers in bloom for two months. The trip was about 20 minutes away and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees as we entered the countryside. There were mountains in the background and it was kind of sunny kind of cloudy so it was perfect. 

On our journey there and on the trip back we had more people take pictures of us than I've ever had in my life. I'm not even sure why--Thai people ride around in the back of trucks all the time. People flashed their lights, rolled down their windows and would yell "smile" as they took our picture. I'm really not sure what they are going to do with the pictures..maybe upload to facebook with the caption of "Dumb Farangs." Wouldn't be surprised.
sunflower field group
Beautiful Sunflower and the whole group
Well that is the tale of Lopburi. Today we made final plans for three more trips: This weekend Bangkok for Alicia's 25th Birthday, 2nd weekend in December Chaing Mai for Laura's Birthday, and New Years Eve will be spent on Koh Chang Island. I am so excited about all of them and can't even imagine how many crazy and exhausting stories each of the weekends will have! 

1 comment:

  1. On my way. Seatbelts in hand. I think I unconsciously ripped them from the car while I was reading this post. No worries. I am perfectly calm.